The Future of Thermal Imaging

  The year: 2004. The topic: When would my mother-in-law and father-in-law decide to buy their first computer?


  The year: 2004. The topic: When would my mother-in-law and father-in-law decide to buy their first computer? The points of consideration were numerous. Did they really need a computer? What did it need to be capable of? Desktop or notebook? What would they do with it? All of these...


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Heads-up display – HUD is another concept that I am asked about frequently. “When will the technology exist to pro-ject the thermal image inside the mask?” Well, it already does. Again, the military has done this for years. Many pilot helmets project flight, armament and visual data onto the facepiece of the helmet so the pilot can see the information regardless of the direction he or she is looking. The issue for the fire service is that all of the challenges of hands free exist with the exception of dense smoke.

Fusion technology – Fusion refers to the blending of two or more things into one usable image. This could be the combination of regular visual camera with a thermal imager, night vision with thermal imaging or other sensor combinations. Again, this technology has existed for some time. It is readily available in thermal imagers designed for industrial use and is in widespread use in the military.

There are really only two limitations on the development of the future of thermal imaging. The first is the issue of economics. Most fire departments are simply too cash-strapped to purchase the cutting edge or fuel demand for technological leaps. Many of the things commonly believed to be “the future” of thermography in the fire service are readily available today or have already come and gone, so what has been the problem? Why haven’t these features made it into the fire service?

It is as simple as price. I have yet to be asked for anything that was impossible to do or for which the technology did not already exist, but the limitation is always price. Want megapixel thermal resolution? No problem, but be prepared to pay for it. Want in-the-facepiece projection? That can be done as well, but you might have to choose between that feature and a fire engine.

The second issue is that the fire service is not really demanding anything. Products evolve based primarily on customer demand. Sure, there have been instances when a true evolution occurred in product launches; however, most of these revolutionary product introductions are around new technologies or ideas, not really improvements on existing technology. Once a technology is released to the wild, as is the case with thermal imaging in the fire service, product developers wait to see what the customer will do with the technology and what demands the customers begin to make once they start using it. The iPod is a great example. Apple launched it as another MP3 player, but quickly learned that the process of getting music onto the iPod was confusing and time consuming for the customer. iTunes was the development that catapulted Apple to super-stardom. Many thermal imaging manufacturers and developers are waiting for the opportunity, but nobody will know the needs of firefighters better than firefighters and, currently, they aren’t really talking.

What have I missed? What do you think? What does the future look like? If you have the resources, what feature or product evolution would you introduce? If the fire service speaks with a clear voice, developers will listen. Businesses exist to satisfy the needs of their customers. Take some time and think about it. Email me your ideas and I will use them in future columns in the hopes that, by sharing your thoughts and ideas, it will stimulate more thoughts and ideas. I agree that thermal imaging is due for an evolution. The question is, what do you want it to be?

You can reach me at brad_harvey@bullard.com. Include as much detail as you like and let me know if it is OK to use your name as the source of the idea. No idea is too crazy, so bring ’em on!